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Latin American nations demand global push on drugs

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Latin American leaders at the United Nations this week called for more coherent global policies to fight drug trafficking and increased aid to help crack down on the trade.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli called drugs the region’s “weapon of mass destruction” while El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, said the trafficking posed a growing threat to global security.

“Today, the focus of the violence is the U.S. border and our small territories, but tomorrow it will be the big cities of developed countries -- the capitals of America, Europe, Africa or Asia,” Funes told the U.N. General Assembly.

“It would be a mistake to think Mexico and Central America can tackle this crime alone,” Funes said, appealing for international support to help train and equip security forces.

The United States has pledged $1.4 billion over three years to fight the drugs in its Merida initiative, but most of the funds are earmarked for Mexico. Less than a fifth goes to Central America and the Caribbean.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, touting his nation’s experience in fighting drug-running rebels, criticized countries for easing laws on drug use and called for a review of current international strategies to fight the trade.

“It is very important that we are coherent on this issue,” Santos said. “We note with caution the contradictions of some countries that, on the one hand, demand a frontal fight against drug trafficking and, on the other, legalize consumption.”

Colombia, the world’s biggest cocaine producer, has received billions of dollars of U.S. military aid, and Santos offered to share his country’s experience in fighting drug cartels with other countries.

Central American nations are struggling to contain rising violence as powerful Mexican cartels, facing an escalating government crackdown at home, expand southward and intensify operations in neighbouring nations.

Peru, the world’s second-biggest cocaine producer, also said it needed more economic aid to battle the drugs trade.

“I think we need to take another look at international cooperation because it’s not right that Peru is receiving so little,” Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde told Reuters.

The Andean country receives annual aid to fight drugs of about $120 million from the United States, the world’s biggest cocaine consumer, according to Peru’s national drugs agency Devida.

However, the aid flow has been reduced in recent years as Washington made Colombia a priority.

“Responsibility for this is global because this is a global issue,” he said. “The country isn’t getting the support it needs in a battle that requires a global effort.”

(Additional reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima; Editing by Paul Simao)

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